When it comes to our four-legged friends, we all know that they are as important to us as family members. As our pets can’t “speak,” we have to be their pet advocate, both as a veterinarian and as a pet owner.
As a board-certified veterinary emergency specialist, I want you to be the best advocate for your four-legged family member. In fact, that’s the primary reason why I authored It’s a Dog’s Life… but It’s Your Carpet and It’s a Cat’s World… You Just Live In It. What I’ve noticed from friends, family, and those coming into the emergency room is that sometimes people make mistakes when it comes to caring for their pet, or even when visiting their veterinarian.
Now, when I go to my own MD appointments, I realize that the whopping ten minutes of time I get with the doctor can fly by or be overwhelmingly stressful. All the questions that were in my head have, voila, disappeared, and now I’m kicking myself for not remembering to ask that question. Does this happen to you when you get to your vet?
Well, when it comes to taking care of our pets, let’s focus on three ways to do your pet right the next time you go into the veterinarian.
First, be a strong advocate for your pet! The first place to start is by simply maintaining a good medical record at home. If you have blood work done by your vet, ask for a copy. Every few years, ask for an updated copy of Fido’s medical record so you have it on hand if you ever have to rush to an emergency veterinarian or decide to up and move. Next, know your rights; in the case that Fido is really sick, you can always self-refer Fido’s case to a board-certified specialist or to another veterinarian if you’re worried about the diagnosis, prognosis, or simply just want a second opinion. Most people are too embarrassed and don’t want to offend their veterinarian, but when it boils down to Fido’s health, let’s do what’s best for Fido. Lastly, if you have a lot of questions for your vet, do your research (on reputable Internet sites, please!) and bring a list of questions to ask your vet so you make sure all your points are addressed. Keep the list shortand to the point: 3-5 main questions.
Secondly, if your dog or cat is old enough, skip the vaccines this year, but make sure to still have an annual exam. Once your pet has gone through their whole puppy or kitten series, followed by annual vaccines for four to five years, studies have shown that Fluffy’s immune system is well protected! Current veterinary recommendations are to make sure Fluffy has an annual exam, but we’ve moved vaccines to every two to three years, depending on your state’s rabies law. If you own a middle-aged to geriatric pet, talk to your vet about getting routine blood work (such as a complete blood count or chemistry panel) every year instead of the vaccines. This helps pick up on disease earlier and allows us to potentially treat it earlier.
Thirdly, when something’s wrong, don’t wait to see a vet. Fido and Fluffy can’t tell you where it hurts. I often see people waiting too long before they finally take their pet in to their vet. Signs such as increased thirst or urination, decreased appetite, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, lethargy, panting excessively, not wanting to move, collapse, pale gums, a racing heart, or generalized malaise are all basic signs that you should bring your pet to a vet right away. For you cat lovers out there, watch your cat’s kitty litter habits. If you notice bigger clumps in the litter box, please don’t wait too long to bring Fluffy in; common diseases like chronic kidney failure, diabetes mellitus, or even hyperthyroidism can be fatal without treatment. Likewise, a lack of urine in the litter box after a day or two could mean your male cat has a bladder obstruction and may need to be rushed to the ER. Most people wait too long, and it’s more expensive to treat when you wait until your pet needs to go to the ER or be admitted to the hospital. Remember, it takes a lot for your generally happy-go-lucky cat or tail-thumping dog to show you signs that he’s sick.
Remember: because Fluffy and Fido can’t speak up for themselves, we as veterinarians and you as owners have to.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.